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My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

It’s been a good year for writing. I know many lament the death of newspapers and magazines, like Newsweek, which printed its last issue just over a year ago. But the new age in journalism has spawned new mediums for more writers. This has been great fun to watch. Over the course of the last twelve months, there have been a few essays that have really stirred me. I could have listed dozens, but I found these six to be both enlightening and inspiring, which is an exciting combination.

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://instagram.com/jakeweidmann

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://www.jakeweidmann.com


Andrea Palpant Dilley (Christianity Today) published a story on the research of sociologist, Robert Woodberry. And it surprised me in every way. The well-written essay unmasked many of the stereotypes we’ve long held and perpetuated about the role of missionaries in recent history.

Yet so far, over a dozen studies have confirmed Woodberry’s findings. The growing body of research is beginning to change the way scholars, aid workers, and economists think about democracy and development. The church, too, has something to learn. For Western Christians, there’s something exciting and even subversive about research that cuts against the common story and transforms an often ugly character—the missionary—into the whimsical, unwitting protagonist we all love to love.
Full essay.

Kirsten Powers (USA Today) penned this scandalous article amidst the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist whose Philadelphia “clinic” committed unspeakable horrors. Powers, a Democratic pundit and journalist, took a big risk in publishing this, but almost single-handedly (with a strong hat tip to Mollie Hemingway) made this trial a national news story. Powers also made headlines last year for her inspiring personal testimony.

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations? It’s not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page.
Full essay.

Andy Crouch (Christianity Today) wrote a masterful essay on the day the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act” and legalized same-sex marriage. This was perhaps this biggest story of 2013. Andy handled the topic with real Christian conviction, but wrote with an exemplary type of sensitivity and clarity.

Is there an easy way out of the current battles over sexuality? No. But there is a way through. A remnant, perhaps small and perhaps substantial, will continue to teach that we are created male and female, to bless the marriages that reunite those two broken halves, and to remind all, married and unmarried, that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage”—that ultimately our earthly eros only reflects the reunion promised between the Creator and his image bearers.
Full essay.

Russell Moore (Wall Street Journal) wrote a compelling challenge to Christians as we enter a new age in American history. Christians, as Dr. Moore describes, no longer exists as a “moral majority” but instead should aim to be a “prophetic minority,” a phrase I quite like. Dr. Moore models the “convictional kindness” he implores us to use.

Our voice must not only be a voice of morality, it must be a voice of welcome that says, “Just as I am without one plea, except the blood of the Son of God was shed for me.” That must be in our voices, with tears in our eyes, so we speak with those who disagree with us with a convictional kindness—not because we are weak, but because the gospel is strong, and because we have been given a mission that is anchored to the cross.

Full essay. Covered by the Wall Street Journal here.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey (Wall Street Journal) authored a helpful piece on Christians and adoption. In light of several adoption scandals and a swath of misinformation about international adoption, particularly, Bailey’s essay provided a balanced account of where things stand.

The Bible is full of admonishments to take special care of “the fatherless,” and in recent years, evangelical Christians in particular have taken this commandment to heart… But in the midst of its rapid growth, the evangelical adoption movement has experienced some growing pains. “Early on, there was adoption cheerleading: ‘It’s beautiful, we need this,’ ” Mr. Medefind says. “Now Christians are talking about ethical questions, like guarding against corruption.”
Full essay.

Patton Dodd (Christianity Today) wrote a gracious and hopeful story about the new life at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This piece is important personally because of my friendships with a number of the members of New Life and because Patton articulated trends that are important for evangelical church leaders across the country to understand.

The church’s new auditorium, with a stage set in the round and 8,000 seats, is equipped with insane lighting and sound capabilities, all on display this morning. Christ will be preached this morning—and here he is preached as the head of Christendom, leading the charge for Christians to take over the world. He is risen, and we are on the rise. Until, suddenly, we were not. Over the first weekend of November 2006, New Life’s meteoric rise came to a crashing halt.
Full essay.

Unearthing the Masked Worth

Unearthing the Masked Worth

Thirty first-graders sat in a circle on the floor. One by one, they each shared tenderly.
“I love Marcos because he is a great soccer player,” Shanté shared, fighting back her emotions.
“I love Marcos because he sometimes doesn’t hit me when he’s mad,” Lucas remarked.
“I love Marcos because he makes us laugh,” Diego reflected.
It was Marcos’ last day in 107, my wife’s classroom. And his fellow first graders shared their favorite Marcos memories as a tribute to the boy who was with them for the first half of the school year. They spoke candidly, not skirting around the reality: Marcos wasn’t well behaved. In fact, he was a full-on troublemaker. But he was “107”. He was a friend. And they knew Marcos for who he was, not the trouble he caused.
He lugged a heavy reputation with him to his first day of school. It was his first day in 107, but not his first time in first grade. He had been held back for another go around. And he quickly lived up to his billing—chucking chairs, hitting students and disregarding Mrs. Horst’s instructions with regularity.
Marcus has lived through more pain in six long years than I have my entire life. As a child, his father pitted him against his older brother in the cruelest of ways. He would often provoke Marcos and his brother to physically fight each other for a bag of Doritos. Like a cockfight, he heckled as the two punched and wrestled each other.
In and out of foster homes, Marcos carried so much pain into 107 that first day. And many times, he acted out of his wounds. Wounds deeper than any little boy should have. Behind the tough guy façade, though, Marcos was still a little boy. And a very tenderhearted one at that.
While many days were tough, the glimpses of hope surfaced increasingly through his semester in 107. I remember Marcos fondly. Once, I brought our two-year-old son, Desmond, in as a surprise classroom guest. Marcos and Desmond hit it off instantly. Marcos read book after book to Desmond, disregarding instructions to return to his desk because of how absorbed he was in the stories he read. He was Desmond’s hero that day. And mine too.
During his last-day tribute, Marcos’ foster mom brought cupcakes for him to give to his classmates. He handed them out with pride, forgetting to even serve himself. As he proudly hugged each of his fellow students on his way out, the mood was somber, yet hopeful. Marcos was 107. And these were his friends.
This is what we should be about. Marcos arrived with a label, but left with a strut. He belonged. He didn’t leave with straight laces, but he left knowing he was loved. At our best, Christians reclaim what the world says is not worth the trouble. We are never without hope. We look past what is and see what could be.
It might be in a classroom, with a sensitive troublemaker like Marcos.
It might be in a thrift store, where people coming out of prison and homelessness are given a chance to work.
It might be in real estate, where a developer pieces together underused properties and brings a bold new use to the land.
It might be in the delivery room, where parents lovingly welcome Down syndrome children, a choice made by just eight percent of parents with Down syndrome babies.
It might be in Jesus, who cobbled together a rough-hewn team of fishermen, tax collectors and hotheads to start his Church.

Barry Clark - Weston Snowboards

Barry Clark – Weston Snowboards


Or, it might be someone like Barry Clark, a friend and entrepreneur who saw opportunity where others saw ruin. I am excited to share Barry’s story. It’s a classic story of American small business, with a healthy dose of Colorado blended in. But more than that, it’s a story of a Christian seeing hope where others saw desolation. I encourage you to read it. And to see the beauty amidst the brokenness in your classrooms, commutes and communities.

The drive up Interstate 70 through the Rocky Mountains is almost apocalyptic, the sprawling forests lining the highway appearing lifeless. The mighty lodgepole pines normally paint a grandiose evergreen backdrop, but today they stand dead in their tracks. Foresters call the killing of Colorado’s pines in recent years a “catastrophic event.”
But fire is not the culprit. Pine beetles consumed millions of acres of Colorado’s pine trees over the past ten years. With their food source now mostly depleted, the beetles are gone, but a visible reminder of their feasting remains.
I-70 spans the Rocky Mountains, guiding visitors to Colorado’s charming ski towns. Outdoor enthusiasts the world over gape at the devastation caused by the pine beetles. But Barry Clark, who has traversed this highway weekly for over 25 years, sees more than ruin.

Read the full story at Christianity Today.

Darla, Cade and the Boy at the Aquarium

Darla, Cade and the Boy at the Aquarium

I pulled the same prank every week. I knew it and Darla knew it, but that didn’t stop us from repeating it. There was one reason I continued to covertly “steal” Darla’s bowling ball: Her response. When the prank was up, her laugh enlivened the dark bowling alley. But if the alarming trend continues, far fewer of us will know people like her. Darla lives with Down syndrome, a medical condition our society is attempting to erase.
Saturday mornings during college, I volunteered with the Special Olympics bowling league and track club. And it was Darla’s charm that acted like an unsnoozable alarm clock whenever I considered shirking my volunteer commitment. Her big hugs and contagious smiles greeted everyone she met, and they were the highlight of my week.

Darla

When I finished college and moved away from Indiana, Darla’s embrace faded from my memory. But her smile resurfaced and branded itself on my heart when I read Cade’s story and learned that 92 out of 100 babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. I grew up in a special needs family and grieve that 92% of these families will not experience this unexpected and overwhelming joy.

Last week, my family visited the Denver Aquarium. While there, I saw a young boy with Downs who clamored for a good view of a tropical fish tank. Nobody in the aquarium matched his delight. He saw the world with unfiltered enthusiasm, his imagination captured by the brightly colored fish darting and twisting through the water. The little boy at the aquarium doesn’t know me, but he captivated my imagination with his whimsy.

We characterize people with Down syndrome by their challenges—much like we portray people in poverty by their problems. I’m so glad I’m not identified by what ails me. Chris? He’s the guy that is overly concerned by what other people think of him. Or, Chris? Oh, he’s a “considers-his-own-needs-above-all-others” type of guy. Thankfully, I’m just Chris.

We purge the richness of God’s marvelous creativity by telling thousands of babies that they do not deserve a stake in our society because of their uniqueness. Darla, Cade, the boy at the aquarium, and their many courageous friends are not problems in need of a solution. Darla is a woman who spreads optimism in spite of adversity. The boy at the aquarium reminds us to marvel at the beauty in our world. People worth celebrating and worth protecting.

Confounding the New York Times

Confounding the New York Times

The New York Times published a disturbing report. They were clear on the “what” but silent on the “why.” They described an impending disaster, but did not prescribe any solutions. The man is freefalling without a parachute, they figuratively said, but they don’t know why he jumped or how to get him a parachute. They just know he’s falling. Fast.
The disaster is this: Eight million Indian girls were eliminated over the past 30 years because parents preferred boys to girls. Eight million people live in the state of Virginia. Eight million people inhabit Switzerland. Eight million Indian girls never reached their first birthday because they were girls. The fuel for this killing machine? Prosperity.

India’s increasing wealth and improving literacy are apparently contributing to a national crisis of “missing girls,” with the number of sex-selective abortions up sharply among more affluent, educated families during the past two decades, according to a new study…women from higher-income, better-educated families were far more likely than poorer women to abort a girl.

Incomes are increasing dramatically! …and parents can now afford ultrasounds to abort their girls. More Indian parents can read! …and their daughters will never reach kindergarten. People are educated! …and the world will never know the names of eight million girls.
We throw huge concerts to help the poor. We buy fair trade jewelry from global artisans. We petition our lawmakers to preserve foreign aid budgets. We travel to Africa on mission trips. We help the unfortunate to prosper. And for what? For this? Eight million silenced girls? Is this the goal of our attempts to help the vulnerable? To see them prosper and then choose to kill off the babies who lost the gender lottery?

We solve the problems of poverty and introduce the problems of prosperity. The New York Times lacked answers. They broke the news, but the story ends depressingly: “The problem has accelerated.” Apparently, this tragedy is at its genesis.
We need to fill hungry bellies and create jobs. We need to build houses and teach phonics. We are commanded to drill wells and bandage the wounded. However.
Jesus does not want us to stop there. You can own the whole world yet still have nothing, he said. These actions alone are not enough. Apart from the saving grace of Christ, prosperity produces new types of pain. Increased incomes means eight million less Indian girls. You won’t read it in the New York Times, but without Christ, our “giving back” is incomplete. If hearts don’t change; we create new disasters while we solve others.
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The study estimated that 4-12 million girls (I used 8 as an estimate) have been aborted in India over the past 30 years. A different global study estimates that 163 million female babies have been aborted over the past 30 years by parents seeking sons.